This disaster was the greatest one in the history of coal mining in Alabama insofar as the loss of life was concerned. At least 128 men lost their lives, of whom about 90 percent were negro convicts.
The other men in the mine were white convicts, and free negroes who were employed as shot firers and foreman. The machine runners and helpers and the foremen and assistants had not yet entered the mine for work when the explosion occurred, with the exception of O. W. Spradling, an assistant foreman, and Lee Jones, the shot firer, (both free white men), who were in the mine and were killed. They were found on the left haulway.
Banner mine is near the station named Littleton, Jefferson County, about twenty miles northwest of Birmingham, on the Southern Railway, and the Cane Creek division of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad.
The explosion occurred at about 6:20 a.m. Saturday, April 8, 1911 as indicated on the Fan Record. It was customary to allow the convicts to cease work sooner on Saturday than on other days, and accordingly they entered the mine at an earlier hour than usual on this day, or about 6:00 a.m.
Mr. John Cantly, the mine foreman, and Mr. J. T. Massengale, his assistant, were standing near the mouth of the slope when the explosion occurred.
Mr. Massengale reports that he heard a sound resembling a distant shot and at
once observed smoke coming out of the mouth of the slope accompanied by a shower of loose gravel. This smoke and gravel appeared about one minute after the sound was heard. On looking toward the No. 2 shaft, he saw a cloud of smoke rising from it also.
Mr. Massengale went down the slope at once, passing several negroes enroute, who were shouting and crying out as they ran up the slope to the entrance of the mine.
He proceeded with a naked light to the scale house near the bottom of No. 1 shaft, where he procured safety lamps. He took these lamps to the outside, cleaned and filled them and then returned with several men, went down the slope and proceeded through the 4th Left above through No. 24 room into the 3rd Left. His party heard three shots after the explosion as they were going inby after obtaining the safety lamps.
He brought 16 or 18 men alive, out of the 3rd Left, whom he found at work as if nothing had happened. These men reported that they felt a disturbance in the air, but did not attach much importance to it. Moreover they were convicts and were under strict discipline and would only leave when ordered.